News | 9 September 2022

Young people putting down roots for climate action

Anxiety around climate change has increased in schools over the last five years, with some young people feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of issues to do with the climate.

Kids planting with a staff member

Many of them want to do their part to protect the environment, but they don’t always know how to start or make a difference.

The concept for the Kids Enhancing Tawa Ecosystems (KETE) community initiative was formed in 2020 as a means to help combat these feelings of climate anxiety and give young people the opportunity to take action in caring for the environment. 

A hui early in 2021 with stakeholders from Te Rūnunga o Toa Rangatira, community groups, local and central government and environmental educators, cemented the initiative and supported the student-led approach.

Tawa was chosen due to the strong Kāhui Ako (Community of Learning) in the area, the unique eco-system in Tawa and the wider Porirua harbour catchment, and the passion for the environment amongst local community restoration groups and schools.

Two kids and a woman planting.
KETE coordinator Sue Lum assisting students with planting.

Wellington City Council KETE Programme Co-ordinator Sue Lum says that with guidance from environmental experts, students are given the opportunity to work on projects within the community and their schools. 

“All students across the eight schools in Tawa are involved in KETE, and there are also about 20 to 25 students involved in the Student Leadership Team that lead the initiatives. They are a bunch of passionate young people. They are encouraged to take action as a result of what they have learnt. 

“It’s all about those next steps. We help them to understand the importance of New Zealand's unique endemic flora, fauna and ecosystems, and why we need to look after them. We involve them in habitat restoration, pest control and more.”

Alongside the student-led backyard projects for their schools, there are bigger community projects where all the schools come together to take part in environmental action, along with iwi, community conservation groups, and other stakeholders, says Sue.

“We’ve done a big community restoration planting at Takapū Valley, where every school has their own designated area which they planted and will be kaitiaki of, going into the future. This huge effort resulted in over 7000 plants in the ground. We could not have done this without community support!” 

Group of kids planting in Takapu Valley
Students planting in Takapū Valley

Chair of the Growing Places Charitable Trust Paula Warren has been working with KETE to take neglected pieces of public land and turn them into assets for the community.

“KETE is a great initiative to help kids learn how to care for public spaces and their school grounds. What we’ve seen so far is that kids love being given a chance to get out and make a difference. They are learning skills they will be able to apply throughout their lives, and delivering long term benefits for Tawa.” 

The learning and guidance given through community involvement is a driving force for the initiative, as they can pass on their knowledge to young people who can then advocate in the future. Within schools a tuakana-teina approach sees student leaders encouraging and teaching their fellow students through the lessons they have learnt. 

A student involved in KETE from Tawa College Jemima  Irvine believes this will inspire young people over the years.

“I'm sure the ripple effect has already begun, as each student returns to their class, curiosity will spread and slowly but surely the lessons will be shared around." 

For younger students, I believe that their active contribution to restoring their environment will positively influence the person they become. I hope that their involvement now sets them up well for the future we face with the rapid climate change.”

KETE are currently working on a social media presence where you will be able to follow their progress. To find out more about KETE, contact Sue Lum.